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Immigration walk spotlights split families
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff

Nancy and Vitali Kuznetsov


Courtesy Nancy Kuznetsov

Nancy Kuznetsov, left, reads a card detailing a local family's problems with immigration laws as Rachel Heuman of Evanston holds a rose as part of a ceremony in the 53-mile protest walk.


Joseph Ryan

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Published: 5/23/2010 12:01 AM

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Nancy Kuznetsov served six years in military intelligence with the U.S. Army during the Cold War. Her daughter and son-in-law are in the U.S. Air Force, both serving at times in Middle East operations.

And three years ago her husband was deported to his home country of Belarus in Eastern Europe, where he has been trapped since.

For Nancy Kuznetsov, the disparity between one half of her family serving the U.S. and the other half kicked out of it - not to mention the years away from her husband - is too much.

"I'm a U.S. citizen. What about my right to live with my family in my country?" she says. "The law is absurd. There are people all over going through this."

The Schaumburg resident represents one side of the polarized immigration debate that's been growing louder across the country, with some pushing for faster citizenship status and fewer deportations, while others call for enforcing current law, including the deportation of anyone here illegally, no matter the circumstances.

Kuznetsov recalls when her husband, Vitali Kuznetsov, was picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in front of their North Carolina home at the time.

"They came to our house. I was a walking the dog and two goons jump out of a car and approach me with a gun like I'm harboring a fugitive," she says. "It was very traumatic."

That day and years of anguish led to Saturday, when Nancy Kuznetsov joined about 50 other immigration rights activists in a 53-mile protest walk from Chicago to the McHenry County Jail in Woodstock where local deportees are processed.

Kuznetsov's situation stems from a law that essentially says if an immigrant falls out of legal status they must be deported and then can't regain legal status for between three to 10 years.

In her husband's case, she claims his work visa status was jeopardized by paperwork errors when he was transferring between minor league hockey teams before they married in 2001. Once they were married, Vitali Kuznetsov applied for citizenship as Nancy Kuznetsov is a natural born citizen, but he was instead deported after years of legal fighting.

The legal battle has continued as the couple has tried to see each other every six months and Nancy Kuznetsov has helped her daughter and son-in-law juggle their children between overseas deployments.

The situation is not unlike those of others involved in the walk organized by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which wants to highlight its support for stronger borders and a path to citizenship as well as opposition to what it views as a ramping-up of collar county deportations.

Critics of such efforts argue that the law must be followed and exceptions should not be made for illegal immigrants. And they say that undocumented immigrants can cost citizens' jobs and resources.

The immigration debate has continued to be a lightening rod in both national and local politics. In Palatine on Saturday morning, David Cohen, an active member of the Countryside Church Unitarian Universalist, said the congregation is even split on the issue, though it hosted a stop in the morning for the protest walkers to eat and tend to blisters.

But Cohen said, "There is a real yearning here to go out in the world and do good."